Tribal chairwoman hails directive on feathers

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Lower Elwha Kallam Chairwoman Frances Charles welcomed a federal Justice Department clarification of its policy concerning the possession of eagle feathers by Native Americans.

But, in case anyone wondered, the tribe has never killed eagles, she said.

“We don’t do that,” Charles said.

The Justice Department said Friday it will allow members of federally recognized Native American tribes to possess eagle feathers, a significant religious and cultural issue for many tribes.

The written policy solidifies a long-standing practice by Justice prosecutors, U.S. attorneys and the Interior Department not to prosecute in such circumstances.

Federal laws crimininalize both the killing of eagles and possession of feathers, but the Constitution and federal laws also give tribes local sovereignty for self-government.

Under the new Justice Department policy, tribal members will not be prosecuted for wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or parts.

They also may pick up feathers found in the wild as long as they do not disturb federally protected birds or nests.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a memo to U.S. attorney offices around the country that the new policy was issued to address concerns of members of some tribes who were unsure how they might be affected by federal wildlife law enforcement efforts, particularly on whether a permit would be required.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a very limited number of permits for Native Americans to kill eagles in the wild or obtain feathers and carcasses of accidentally killed eagles from a federal repository.

Charles said eagle feathers are used in regalia and to honor graduating students and others.

“It’s part of our culture and tradition,” she said.

The feathers are found by the Elwha River or on beaches or other areas, she said.

The tribe also applies for them from zoos that have deceased eagles, she added.

But feathers are not acquired through killing, she said.

“We have never asked for a permit to kill an eagle,” Charles said.


Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at

Last modified: October 13. 2012 5:17PM
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